1 | Spot the problem
Noticeable reverberation, or echo, indicates that a room presents an acoustic challenge. So too does noise heard from other teaching spaces, noisy roads or nearby plant rooms. This can have an impact on pupils’ learning and attainment, memory retention and behaviour, as well as teacher wellbeing in the form of headaches, vocal stress and other symptoms.
2 | Check room sizes
Reverberation naturally increases with room volume, with the result that larger rooms will need more in the way of acoustic treatment. Things get difficult in rooms with ceiling heights that exceed around 2.5m – a class ‘A’ suspended ceiling will help reduce room height and volume, while providing a better acoustic environment.
3 | Know your finishes
Acoustic finishes are classified from ‘A’ to ‘E’. Use only type ‘A’ absorptive finishes, as these are the most efficient. Government guidance for spaces used by pupils with SEND require lowfrequency reverberation time to be controlled, so you’ll also need some bass absorption – either hidden on top of the ceiling or behind acoustic wall panels.
4 | Ceiling alternatives
If it’s not possible to install a suspended ceiling, consider using suspended horizontal acoustic rafts. These are very efficient in that both sides are absorptive, but they’re not great at tackling low frequencies, necessitating some separate bass absorbing pads. These can obtained in different shapes, such as clouds or circles, which could be good for early years.
5 | School halls
Multi-purpose halls can be particularly challenging, presenting deafening sound levels at lunch times or frustrating parents unable to hear dialogue during the Christmas play. These and other issues can be remedied with acoustic wall panels fixed in the manner of giant picture frames, which can be made impact resistant and even screen printed with the school logo.
6 | Holes in walls
Drilled holes in walls and new cable runs can cause unwanted sound to travel. Avoid running services through classrooms and putting new power sockets back-to-back. If the cabling in question is unavoidable, ensure that any holes are properly sealed, or that attenuators are used in new ductwork.
7 | Check before change of use
The government guidance document, ‘BB93 – Acoustic Design of Schools’, sets out a series of acoustic standards that schools will need to abide by when looking to expand or refurbish parts of their estate. Be aware that it’s always advisable to consult with external expertise before your plans are finalised and submitted.
8 | Free help
Some expert help is available for free. Certain companies, including Ecophon, will be prepared to visit your school, offer advice, carry out reverberation calculations and produce practical, BB93-compliant costed design solutions at no cost or obligation to you.
9 | SEND
There are different standards in place for pupils who are sensitive to sound and may therefore require assisted learning – for example, those with a hearing impairment, ADHD or autism. To be truly inclusive, we must level the playing field by optimising classroom acoustics, though it’s worth noting that children with SEND should generally be taught in smaller spaces.
10 | New walls
If possible, use dry-lined walls with insulation behind them, which will provide some useful bass absorption at no extra cost. The BB93 standard lets us include the effects of furniture and fittings when acoustically testing a learning space – remember that soft furnishings, thick curtains and bean bags can be useful classroom additions.
Shane Cryer is Concept Developer – Education at Saint Gobain Ecophon.